What's $110,000 among entrepreneurs? Apparently not much, especially when they have recently won the right to capitalize on one of the most legendary--and thus lucrative--names in music. Such is the situation facing Andrew Pitsicalis, a business partner of Jimi's younger brother Leon and the longtime legal foe of Janie, the brothers' adopted sister who inherited control of the Hendrix estate. In fact, the 38-year-old Pitsicalis says he's "glad" to pay the six-figure sum.Back in February, when Seattle Weekly last reported on the legal wrangling between Pitsicalis and Janie Hendrix--whose companies Experience Hendrix and Authentic Hendrix hold the exclusive rights to Hendrix's music--federal judge Thomas Zilly had just declared the Washington State Publicity Rights Act unconstitutional. The ruling allows Pitsicalis, sued by Janie for trademark infringement, to sell all sorts of Hendrix swag, including apparel featuring the guitar virtuoso's name, likeness, and song titles. It was a significant blow to Janie and the Hendrix estate, which once enjoyed a virtual monopoly on the valuable Hendrix brand.
But while the February ruling partially made the Hendrix likeness fair game, the judge also decided that Pitsicalis violated the law by registering the website HendrixLicensing.com, when in truth he had no power to license anything Hendrix. After another trial in May, a jury decided that Pitsicalis owed Janie Hendrix $1.4 million for court costs and damaging the "reputation and goodwill" of her companies.
Pitsicalis appealed, and last week judge Zilly partially reversed the jury's decision, ruling that the $1.4 million figure was based on "guesswork and speculation" and that the lesser sum is more reasonable. Naturally, Pitsicalis agrees.
photo by Renee McMahon Leon Hendrix and his business partner are poised to make a mint off his legendary last name.
"It's minimal to me," he tells Seattle Weekly from his office in Las Vegas. "I don't consider it a big chunk . . . In lieu of rights we won from the judge in the February decision, we're elated. We're glad to pay her that money."
The lead attorney representing Janie Hendrix did not return messages seeking comment. See update below for comments from Janie Hendrix.
Pitsicalis says he is already lining up deals with major retailers like Walmart, Old Navy, and JC Penney to hawk his Hendrix merch. Leon Hendrix was not involved in the initial lawsuit (which centered on the domain names HendrixLicensing.com and HendrixArtwork.com), but he is a partner in Pitsicalis' latest venture, RockinArtwork.com, which sells, among other items, reproductions of visual art created by Hendrix before his death in 1970.
"Leon and his children now have a legacy and a voice in a fair marketplace," Pitsicalis says. "That's what I care about, putting out quality merchandise and creating a legacy for Leon and his family. That's what Jimi would have wanted--for his brother to have a say about what his brand and image would be throughout the years."
Leon Hendrix--himself a guitarist, whose hard-knock life in his brother's shadow was chronicled by Seattle Weekly's Mike Seely in 2009--was denied an inheritance by his father Al, who controversially bequeathed the entire Hendrix estate to Janie in one of his final acts in 2002. A bitter feud ensued between the two estranged siblings, with Leon perpetually trying to make a buck off his brother's name but being denied the right to do so in court. One of his schemes included a line of "Hendrix Electric Vodka," a questionable move considering that Jimi died from combining alcohol and sleeping pills.
Needless to say, Leon is thrilled about the recent turn of events. "I feel vindicated in the ongoing saga of my struggle to define my place as Jimi Hendrix's brother and to play a role in his, and my, legacy," he declares in a press release that attempts to spin the $110,000 judgment as a "huge legal defeat" for Janie and the Hendrix estate.
According to Pitsicalis, however, the Hendrix family legal "saga" might not be over just yet. Not entirely satisfied with the $110,000 fine levied by the judge, he is considering appealing that ruling too.
"There's a chance that will be knocked down even more," Pitsicalis says. "We might [appeal] but if not, we'll just pay the 110 grand. It's minimal to me."
Update: Janie Hendrix agreed to a phone interview with Seattle Weekly to answer a few questions about the drastically reduced judgment in her on-going dispute with Pitsicalis.
The heiress to the Hendrix estate says she plans to appeal Judge Zilly's recent ruling. "Obviously we weren't thrilled," she says. "We had a unanimous decision from a jury. I'd just like to wait and see what the appellate court thinks of all of that and let them decide what is really fair."
She claims that Pitsicalis' companies infringed on her Hendrix trademarks was "causing confusion" with some of her business partners, and thus the more sizable $1.4 million amount the court initially awarded was more appropriate.
"At trade shows," Hendrix says, "some licensees were confused as to who owned what and who properly had trademarks and copyrights on what logos and photos."
Janie Hendrix also questioned Pitsicalis' claims that her brother Jimi would have wanted the Las Vegas investor to have any control over his name and likeness.
"This is not a war of Leon and Janie," she says. "This is [about] Experience Hendrix, a company my father founded and was the Chairman of. He selected who he wanted as family members to run this company and to take care of the rights...This is about Experience Hendrix and Authentic Hendrix, who legally won the trademarks and copyrights to Jimi, and we are protecting those as my father requested."